November 18th, 2014
I went to a screening of the new Reese Witherspoon movie, “Wild,” for which she was both producer and lead actor. It’s a really “lovely” film which I enjoyed — Thumbs Up! But … in the end, she needed the help of famed geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky. Had he read her script he would have called it “a pile of sundry facts, some of which are interesting and even curious, but ultimately fails to paint a meaningful picture.” Bottom line, it’s a solid film, but still just an, “and, and, and” presentation.
WILD SCREENING. After a special Writers Guild screening of “Wild,” actor/producer Reese Witherspoon (second from left) and actor Laura Dern (far right) joined the panel discussion to talk about the movie. A good movie, but the basic story was, “I got divorced, and then my mother died, and then I went on a hike, and then I encountered a fox, and then I ran out of water, and then I got a ride with a scary man, and then …”
WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO SAY HERE?
I don’t think geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky had any aspirations of giving Hollywood knowledge they could use, nor do I think Hollywood is ever likely to listen to the words of a geneticist when it comes to narrative structure, but they should. In my upcoming book I will formally present what I have come to call The Dobzhansky Template. It’s a simple sentence, derived from his famous evolution quote, in which you fill in the blanks. Here’s the sentence:
“Nothing in _______ makes sense except in the light of _______ .”
It’s a shame Reese Witherspoon couldn’t have sat down with the template before making her new movie, “Wild.” The movie is beautifully shot and she is of course as endlessly watchable as she was in 1991 in her wonderful debut movie, “The Man in the Moon.” But in the end, the story doesn’t really say much.
It’s based on the book by Cheryl Strayed. In the Q&A Reese told about how Cheryl, living in Oregon, sent her a copy of the book six months before publication. Reese said she read it in 48 hours and knew she wanted to make the movie version of it.
It’s a nice movie — a bit of “Into the Wild,” a bit of “Eat, Pray, Love” as well as even, “Shirley Valentine” — basically another story of the great things that can happen when you go walkabout. But what it lacks is a deeper theme, which it could have had. And that’s where the Dobzhansky template comes in.
All you have to do is look at one of the greatest American movies ever made, “Ordinary People” which won four Oscars in 1980 including Best Picture. The Dobzhansky Template would be: Nothing in that family’s existence made sense except in the light of the death of their son. There’s your clear, simple narrative that wins you Oscars and creates enduring stories.